Wherever you go and wherever Nigerians congregate the question is often asked; why has Nigeria failed? Why has a nation so blessed with abundant human and material resources failed? Why is Nigeria so disharmonious; crippled by tribalism, religious fundamentalism and bigotry? Why is Nigeria so corrupt and why can’t Nigerians work together for the common good of all? Why simple issues in Nigeria are politicised thus inhibiting possible solutions to identified problems? Why is a nation that has all the potentials to be one of the richest in the world a failed state? Why has Nigeria been cursed with an endless line of bad leaders? These haunting questions are ever so common while finding answers to them has proven a difficult task.
The search for the truth is a constant in a every society; It is thus pertinent at this point in our chequered history to seek the truth and provide answers to these questions thereby registering for all time the most fundamental factors that has cumulatively and progressively led to Nigeria’s failure. Nations do not succeed or fail by accident; any of both scenarios are determined by deliberate acts of leadership particularly in the foundational years. In the specific case of Nigeria the absence of nation building which is an indispensable prerequisite for every nation more so a heterogeneous nation with deep ethnic, religious and cultural divisions from the foundational years of independence provided the most important dynamic that led to Nigeria’s failure. Nigeria has uncannily been a very unfortunate and unusual nation, at independence she became one of the only nations led not only by leaders who opposed her independence but whom also rejected the very idea of her nationhood as constituted.
The duo of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa who formed the core of the independence leadership were nothing other than leaders who “hated Nigeria as constituted.” In words and deeds they never failed to demonstrate their hatred for Nigeria. They so much abhorred the very idea of Nigeria that Ahmadu Bello in his book and autobiography “My Life” published in 1961; famously derided the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914.” They saw Nigeria not as a nation to build for the common good of all but as a nation to dominate by any means at the expense of other ethno-religious groups. In other words the project Nigeria was to be a continuation of Othman Dan Fodio’s religious jihad. This is evident from the statement Ahmadu Bello made in the Parrot Newspaper on the 12th of October 1960, just 11 days after independence where he declared that “the new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the south as conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their future.”
This infamous statement by Ahmadu Bello revealed his outlook on Nigeria and his intention to treat it as jihadist booty rather than as a nation to build. His declared intent never to allow a shift of power is also revealing of his undemocratic leanings. Having won power at the centre at independence Ahmadu Bello began unfolding his jihadist project as declared. He refused to become the Prime minister preferring instead to nominate Tafawa Balewa because he loathed coming to or residing in Lagos. He was indeed notably absent at the independence celebrations in Lagos for the same reason of not wanting to step foot in the South. He refused all entreaties to change the name of his political platform the “Northern” people’s congress (NPC) to a name that is more reflective of the whole of Nigeria. He also infamously instituted policies of segregation that created a separate area of habitation (sabon gari) for southerners living in the North and introduced the “Northernization” policy that gave preference to Europeans and other foreigners in employment to Southern Nigerians.
Tafawa Balewa who became the prime minister at independence was no different. In 1948 while addressing the legislative council, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa declared that “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.” This speech, famously delivered to the legislative council underscores the deep resentment/hatred Tafawa Balewa whom together with Ahmadu Bello formed the post-colonial government in 1960 harboured for Nigeria. Since a man cannot give what he does not have, it was impossible and inconceivable for the duo who sufficiently demonstrated their hatred/rejection of Nigeria in words and deeds and who saw Nigeria only as the continuation of Othman Dan Fodio’s jihad to undertake any measure of nation building especially at those formative years that the nation needed it most. Both Ahmadu Bello and Balewa were opposed to independence and were consequently implicated in orchestrating the 1953 anti-independence Kano riots where scores were killed following the rejection of independence by northern lawmakers as requested by Anthony Enahoro in the federal parliament.
Thus, without any incentive to invest in nation building or to make the necessary sacrifices to consolidate the fledgling republic, the duo of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa commenced on a relentless pursuit of narrow sectional, regional and jihadist interests at the expense of the rule of law, democracy and good governance. Ahmadu Bello had also previously declared in the Daily Times on May 3rd 1961, his intention “to conquer the Action Group, (AG) in the same ruthless manner his grandfather conquered Alkawa, a town in Sokoto province, in the last century.” The bid to actualise these declarations in advancement of narrow sectional interests led to the rigging of census results in favour of the North in 1962 provoking an early post-independence crisis. By 1963 a further bid to ensure Northern domination through the construction of a one party state led to the emasculation of the AG and the arrest/ conviction of Chief Obafemi Awolowo for alleged coup plotting. The final act of infamy was the unholy alliance between Ladoke Akintola and Tafawa Balewa leading to a massive electoral heist in the Western region in 1964 which in turn sparked violent riots and disturbances (wetie) which eventually occasioned the January 1966 coup.
No one can doubt the necessity of nation building, yet as necessary as nation building was for Nigeria from independence, only leaders who genuinely believed in Nigeria and who were liberated from the demons of tribalism, religious fanaticism, hate and bigotry could have invested in it. Nation building is not without sacrifices; it involves a sustained process of ethnic and cultural integration through deliberate policies of inclusion, social justice, mutual respect, equality, fraternity and even spread of development and opportunities amongst other pragmatic initiatives. It also involves a commitment to the ideals of democracy. An ideal nation builder must demonstrate in words and deeds a clear policy of total integration that forbids exclusion and all forms of discrimination as the likes of Julius Nyerere of blessed memory stridently cultivated in Tanzania.
It is obvious that because the duo of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa who formed the government of Nigeria at independence hated Nigeria, they were loath to invest in policies that will actualise national integration and create a true Nigerian identity, just as they were also loath to uphold democratic principles of free and fair elections being determined as Ahmadu Bello had declared in his speech to prevent any change of power by all means. Therein lies the most important factors for Nigeria’s failure. Ahmadu Bello/ Balewa were not alone in the odious game of bigotry but they were by far the most important national actors who sufficiently poisoned the nation with tribalism, sectionalism and election rigging in the then Western region to the extent that nation building was simply impossible.
Overtime, the absence of nation building and the seeds of sectionalism, tribalism, corruption and disharmony cultivated by the duo of Ahmadu Bello and Balewa from her foundational years has become Nigeria’s status quo. Since a house divided against itself cannot stand Nigeria has since become a chaotic, corrupt and conflict ridden failed state all thanks to the hatred, divisions and disharmony planted by the independence leadership duo of Ahmadu Bello/Balewa. The Ango Abdullahi’s Adamu Ciroma’s Murtala Nyako’s and Arewa’s of this world who daily make bigoted statements represents Nigeria’s fatal fault-lines and reminds us that Ahmadu Bello’s doctrine/legacy of domination, jihad, hate and exclusion of other Nigerians is still alive and well.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu
Monday, 20 October 2014